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"May you live in interesting times."
Well, we all know there is no shortage of interesting these days. What there is a shortage of, however, is honesty - honesty in our politicians, our mainstream media, our financial institutions, our markets and our regulators - to name but a few. As asset allocators, we are left as best we can to see through the smoke and mirrors and offer prudent advice to our clients.
The Emperor Has No Clothes!
There has been no end of conjecture about the cause of April's correction for the precious metals. It was China's disappointing GDP figures, or it was the Federal Reserve talking about easing off the QE gas pedal, or it was sales of European monetary gold flooding the market, or it was something else.
Q: What do you call someone who
both ignorant and apathetic?
A: I don't know, and I don't care!
This is no time for ignorance or apathy. For us as investors and citizens, the Cypriot bailout has moved the game on by a very significant step. In order to limit the damage to ourselves and our loved ones from what lies ahead, we need to know and care enough not only to take careful notice, but also to take action.
After a rollicking, if Alice-in-Wonderland start to the Gregorian year, the dawning of the Year of the Snake ushered in an end to the markets' scramble up the ladder, borne aloft by a rising confetti soufflé of freshly-printed dollars and yen. Whether this slither down the snake will prove terminal for the markets' revived animal spirits remains to be seen, but it seems to me that for as long as they keep printing, asset prices will keep inflating. Until they do not.
Chocks away, Biggles! Equity-market indices in New York, Tokyo and London are all up over 7% so far this year; and, while silver is keeping up with them, gold was unchanged in January and US Treasury prices are at nine-month lows. Governments and the mainstream media would have us believe that sentiment is positive, confidence is rising and recovery is just around the corner. Hard data, however, present a very different picture. Why have markets and fundamentals de-coupled so much?
Please click here to watch The Henley Group's "2012 Review" video in which our Investment Director, Peter Wynn Williams, presents the Group's take on 2012 and explains what investors should expect going into this year.
The New Year is upon us and in this month's edition we look at what 2013 may bring. At the very last minute, the U.S. congress passed a stop-gap bill to avoid the fiscal cliff, while doing very little, if anything, to address the fundamental issues of unsustainable debt and deficit. The stage is set for more global money printing this year which will benefit most asset prices in general and precious metals in particular.
As the home straight to the holidays looms rapidly into view, the markets are crying out for some Christmas magic to provide solutions for some of the many uncertainties to have bedevilled them (again) this year. Will a fairy godmother wave her magic wand and take us to the ball, or will 2013 turn out to be the year when we find out the markets are a pumpkin pulled by mice?
Brits of a certain age will remember the children's television series, "Stingray," in whose opening credits a voice intones: "Anything can happen in the next half hour!" Such a sentiment could equally apply to the next couple of months.
September 2012 was one of the most important months for the markets and the monetary crisis since that 'other September', in 2008, when the Lehman Brothers' insolvency occurred. Within eight days last month, both the European Central Bank and the US Federal Reserve announced plans for open-ended, unlimited monetary stimulus. Open-ended and unlimited.
Trading over the summer months has continued with low volumes but with equities pushing higher, recouping losses incurred during May. On the surface, it is not easy to say what is driving equity prices. The health of the world economy is looking far from great. Europe is flirting with recession and is only keeping its nose just above water, thanks to Germany.
As the enormity of the LIBOR-manipulation scandal begins to unfold, it is tempting to hope that the non-existence of the gold allegedly backing the hyper-leveraged, unallocated "paper" gold schemes - and even some allocated schemes - will be the next scandal to hit the banksters. The banks can't create bullion out of thin air, unlike paper currencies. If word got out, the naked shorts would be taken to the cleaners - hanged or folded?!
At the time of writing, the umpteenth crisis meeting of the Council of Europe has just finished and the markets are being ramped upwards into the half-year close. The European Union smoke-and-mirrors merchants want us to believe that a game-changing agreement to solve the euro crisis has been reached; but there is no agreement, any more than there is a plan to bail out the Spanish banks. They just say they have a plan. There is no plan; no formalised, agreed plan.
Being an asset allocator is all about risk, and sometimes reward; but now it feels more like juggling hand grenades. Never a dull moment! The short-term focus remains on Europe, where much has happened in the last month. As expected, the day of the French presidential election and the Greek parliamentary elections, 6th May, will probably go down as the day Europe changed profoundly.
Phew! What a relief. Back to normal again: crisis mode. Those six long weeks of relative calm between the European Central Bank's (ECB) second injection of half a trillion euros into the euro-zone banking system, and people noticing that Spain was still unraveling, were quite unnerving. Just goes to show, I suppose, that a trillion confetti currency units are not what they used to be! Even I, Mr Optimism, was shocked by how quickly the oil poured on troubled waters had evaporated.
"I don't like it, Sarge. It's too quiet." Not famous last words, I hope, but I do feel quite uneasy this month, going to press with no potentially-calamitous cliffhanger poised to unleash its terrible destructive force on the global economy, bring the house of cards tumbling down, start the dominoes falling, or furnish other metaphors for me to mangle. Perhaps an attack on Iran will return my cortisol levels to the sort of readings more familiar of late?!
Another month, another cliff hanger. I don't know about you, but I have a bad case of cliff-hanger fatigue, and crisis fatigue. But imagine how the Greeks must feel: Perhaps as if they are on the losing side of a twenty-first-century Treaty of Versailles? Perhaps we should just forget having have a crisis "mind set", and realise that crisis, at least for the foreseeable future, is the new normal?
The financial world watches like a deer caught in the headlamps as Greece plays another game of chicken, this time with some of its hedge fund creditors in the negotiations on private-sector involvement in re-structuring its sovereign debt. Time is now fast running out. Will one side pull the pin, or will one side cave in?
It is customary at this season to review the year which has just drawn to a close, and to prognosticate about the new year dawning. This year, in the interests of preserving whatever festive spirits might have survived, that might be a custom better honoured in the breach than the observance!